Everyone knows that BJ Penn (16-8-2) has always been regarded as the prodigy. He became the first non Brazilian to win the World Jiu-Jitsu Championships (black belt division) at the age of 21. He won two UFC titles in two different weight classes, and his fearless mantra of I’ll fight anyone in any division has made him a legend. Penn epitomizes what MMA used to be.
Muhammad Ali said it best, “Age is whatever you think it is. You are as old as you think you are.” I’m not going to call BJ Penn old; in fact his 34th birthday is two weeks after the fight. However, it is clear that the “fight Kilometers” have started to catch up to the Kailua, Hawaiian native. We started to see it with his lightweight battles with Frankie Edgar. It was apparent that BJ was starting to slow down a touch and that spelled bad news for the lightweight legend as faster, stronger guys started to make hay in the division.
BJ decided to move up to the welterweight division one more time but was greeted by a three round massacre from the hands of the Stockton bad boy, Nick Diaz at UFC 137. After the three round beat down, BJ announced his retirement. Many had felt it spelled the end of an era and the closing curtain for the future UFC Hall of Famer. Yet, many who have had the pleasure to watch Penn fight over the years knew that he is not the personality type to call it quits after a loss.
Over the length of BJ Penn’s career his greatest opponent has been himself. Dana
White touched on this at the UFC on FOX 5 press conference in Seattle. “Has he taken a couple of beatings? Yes. And I blame him for that. Not his talent,” said White “He was so talented he never took this thing seriously, never trained and applied himself as hard as he could have. If he would have, he would have been the guy with the 10-, 15-, 20-fight win streak and he would be still be talked about as one of the greatest ever.”
Maybe the days of training by surfing the Hawaiian waters are over for Penn, and maybe he does have one last kick at the can to regain some legitimacy to his career. Yet there is a kid that will be standing on the opposite side of the Octagon in Seattle this Saturday night who is itching to take away the career torch that Penn is trying to grip onto with all his might. Rory MacDonald (13-1) wants to prove that he is the new breed, today’s Prodigy, and not only does he want to take that torch from Penn, he plans on beating it out of him.
MacDonald started his MMA career at a very young age, and told media horde in Seattle that all of the adulation and praise is not what motivates him. “I’m fighting to hurt him,” MacDonald said. “Not fighting for someone’s opinion.” This cold demeanour is nothing new if you have followed Rory’s career. He has always been a kid that lives in the gym and does his talking in a cage. The Kelowna, BC “gym rat” has never cared what people think of him. While many Canadian kids at the age of 16 had aspirations of playing hockey or football, MacDonald was preparing for his professional MMA debut in Prince George, British Columbia.
“Yeah man, I had to fight in Prince George because at the time that was the only town that allowed me to fight professionally at the age of sixteen,” said MacDonald. “I wanted to fight and that is where I had to do it.”
In 2005 in a seedy bar of some snowy northern BC town, the beginning of a bright career started to emerge. Over the next five years Rory went on a tear by going 9-0 to start his professional career all before his 21st birthday. While most of his friends were cramming for midterms, Rory was finishing all of his fights either by submitting or knocking people out.
Since his Octagon debut at UFC Fight Night in January of 2010, Rory has been
anointed as the “Next One.” He moved from Toshido MMA in Kelowna to his new digs at Tristar Gym in Montreal. George St. Pierre immediately took Rory under his wing and along with Tristar coach Firas Zahabi, they started to take MacDonald’s training to another level and begin to shape what they hope will be a future UFC champion.
Over the last couple of years the young Canadian has been marked as the heir apparent to St.Pierre’s throne. With impressive and dominant wins over Nate Diaz, Mike Pyle and Che Mills, MacDonald is facing the biggest test of his career. A win over Penn would catapult MacDonald to instant stardom and a force to be reckoned with in the UFC welterweight division.
MacDonald called Penn out and he has always claimed he wants the best BJ Penn possible. Not the round, out of shape Penn that has made some scary appearances over the last couple of years. “I’m glad he looks like he’s in shape, said MacDonald. “I want the best BJ Penn in that cage on Saturday. My mindset is focused on hurting him, destroying him, getting the job done. I don’t put too much effort or focus into thinking about my opponent, I just prepared the best I could, focused on myself and I’m ready to go. I didn’t get into this sport for fame or interviews or TV, I would still be doing this if there was no cameras. I really like mixed martial arts. It’s the passion in my life at the moment. I think I’m going to annihilate him in every field.”
This Saturday night on one of the most anticipated UFC cards of the year. A motivated, angry and aging Penn will look to show that he is not ready to pass the torch to a young buck out of Canada. This match-up is perfect, it’s the Penn camp vs. the Tristar camp rivalry. It’s one of the all time greats vs. the budding superstar, it’s Prodigy vs. Prodigy.